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The Paranormal Debunker (#12) The Case of the Doppelganger
Over the course of my dad's history as a ghost hunter, we've come across a few cases with sad endings. Those don't happen often, but we can never really forget them. Take this last case for example.
The clouds have been rolling in lately, and the weather getting just a little bit colder. Me and my sister were hanging out at the front of the office. Tina was on the computer working on her online homework while I was busy putting the hurt on some zombies on mine. That was when the door opened and a couple came in.
They looked like any run-of-the-mill couple. There was almost nothing out of the ordinary about them in appearance. The man had curled black hair, and the woman was a brunette. The way they dressed made them look down to earth, like those guys who travel around the world and stuff.
I hid my game window and straightened up. Tina decided to duck away out of sight to get Dad. She usually always did this when customers or strangers come in. I have no idea where she disappears to afterward.
"Welcome to Honest Paranormal Investigations," I said. "I'm Tony Keung. How may I help you?"
"Are you in charge here?" asked the woman.
"Actually, my dad's the one in charge. He should be out shortly. Why don't you wait of there until he comes?"
I pointed toward the cushioned chairs around the glass coffee table at the space where Dad entertained his clients. Mini water bottles were placed there on a silverware tray for thirsty guests. We also had China stored away somewhere for tea time, though we've only ever used it for when family or friends decide to drop by for a social visit, the majority of which were Emem Okonjo, a Nigerian-born police detective that Dad used to get along with as a rival on the force. And I gotta say, if you're a criminal, no matter how high up the food chain you are, you do not want to come to deal with a duo team like theirs.
No sooner did the couple sit down, Dad breezed on in like usual, adjusting his tie to make himself look more sharp. Tina was following closely behind him.
He froze, his eyes widened a little, as if he were surprised by something the moment his eyes caught sight of his new potential clients. Dad swiftly regained his composure, but me and Tina exchanged glances. We were both probably wondering the same thing: just what wast that about?
"Please don't get up on my account," he said as the couple bent forward as if to stand up. They sank back into their chairs, and Dad did the same. "My name is Tai-long Keung. May I ask your names?"
I went to get the clipboard that held the forms that clients would write when they wanted to hire Dad to do an investigations. It's all those paper formalities investigators do to make sure that there aren't any legal issues.
"I'm Terra Woodschild," said the woman. I saw how one of Dad's eyebrows were raised when she said her name. You could say that I inherited my dad's sharp eyes. "And this is my husband, Dylan Woodschild. We're environmentalists and social service workers. Normally, we would be in Asia working to provide quality education for children of lesser developed nations, however, we decided to move back home for a while."
"Does it have to do with the soon-to-be new addition to your family?" Dad asked.
"How'd you -?" went Mr. Woodschild. Both of them were really surprised.
"My apologies," said Dad. "As a father, myself, and possessor of knowledge in the field of medicine, I am quite familiar with the signs. Ahem! Let us hurry to the matter at hand, shall we?"
"Yes, let's," said Mrs. Woodschild. "Where to begin? Well, for starters, I heard about you from a friend of the family. Apparently, a couple of years ago, you helped him out with a problem?"
"I used to work as a police officer through which I've been council to both victims and convicts, and post-retirement from the force, I've been consultant about paranormal claims to numerous clients, so forgive me for asking for further details," Dad said.
"It's quite alright," said Mrs. Woodschild. "I believe his name was Jacob Edwards."
"Oh! I remember him!" Dad exclaimed. "His case was one of the few times that there was the possibility of the paranormal in a police case. Of course, it ended up just being some kind of elaborate, and confusing to most, plan to frame Jacob, using his expertise in various fields of science, engineering, and architecture against him. But I can't really take all the credit for helping him out, since Emem was the one who cracked the true culprit's alibi. I just pointed out the possibility of a frame-up."
"So, getting back to the topic at hand, why don't you start from the beginning and tell me everything?" Dad suggested.
"Well, as you know, we're environmentalists and social service workers, working for the people of this city," said Mrs. Woodschild. "Until recently, it was business as usual. We've lived in the same home, the same neighborhood for a few months now. I don't think we have any kind of antique or bought anything recently that could cause a haunting. The neighbors were certainly friendly and not the sort to cause immature stunts to this level. Everything was going normal. But just a few days ago, I happened to look out the window while doing some paperwork in the living room and saw myself!"
I wanted to suggest that maybe it was just the reflection, but decided to keep my mouth shut. Dad's Rule No. 1 of detective work: always listen to the whole story and then consider the evidence before making assumptions. He used to complain about how members of his department wouldn't follow this rule, even though it was thanks to this rule that Dad solved a bunch of cases.
"At first, I thought it was just my imagination or my reflection. It was just a passing glance, after all. But then, the next day, it happened again. This time, I caught sight of it very clearly while I was texting a friend on my phone at the windowsill. And it was horrible. Right outside my window, I saw myself wearing some kind of black overcoat and with an extremely pale complexion. I mean this . . . this doppelganger looked more like a zombie or a ghost than a human being! There was practically no color on her face. Her eyes were shrunken in and yellowing. And she looked like she had been starving for weeks! It scared me out of my mind, and I assure you, Mr. Keung, I don't usually scare easily."
That was hard to believe, given how much she kept rubbing her upper arm.
"Given your profession, it would be beneath me to assume so," Dad said, an intellectual sweet talker. "How often have you caught sight of this doppelganger?"
"At least once a day for the past two weeks," said Mrs. Woodschild. "The times differ. In my profession, I sometimes have to keep careful track of the time for various reasons, so I'm confident about that. The first time was around One in the afternoon during my day off. She came back at around Two-Fifteen the next day. And so on and so forth. I thought I'd keep it to myself since the experience sounded ridiculous even for me, who has an interest in the paranormal, urban legends and the like."
"I caught on eventually and had her spill the beans," Mr. Woodschild added in. "I was worried about how stressed she seemed to be getting. That much stress can't be good for the baby, either. So, I thought I'd stake out to see what was really going on."
"And I assume that, except for the obvious lack of a healthy complexion, the person was a spitting image of your wife?"
"The look was uncanny," Mr. Woodschild admitted, shuddering a little. "I found everything out on Day Four, according to her, and first saw the doppelganger on Day Five. I don't think someone could pull it off that well, even with Hollywood special effects. And even if there are other rational ways of pulling it off, I don't think we've ever done anything to warrant such harassment. At least, the work we do don't make for that much disdain against us, though we have crossed people from time to time."
"What does this doppelganger do when she appears?" Dad asked.
"Nothing," Mrs. Woodschild just said. "All she does is just stand there and stare. The way she looked at me, it was almost as if she was glaring at me, as if I had done something to make her angry."
She shivered before continuing.
"Just seeing that face paralyzed me. And its stuck in my head. I can't close my eyes for one second without it popping up."
"Uh-huh," Dad went, his eyes on Mrs. Woodschild's face. You don't need sharp eyes like his to notice the excessive use of make up beneath the eyes to conceal the bags. And you don't need to be a Sherlockian to guess correctly that it was probably from a lack of sleep.
"But as if that wasn't enough, I've felt like I'm being watched for a while now. Every time I'm out on the street, it feels like someone's eyes were on me. And now and then, I notice the same black SUV passing by. And I know it's the same because there were scratch marks on the door to the driver's seat. I must have seen it go by at least three times in one day. I know this doesn't have anything to do with the paranormal, but I just wanted to get it out of my system."
Dad rubbed his hairless chin thoughtfully. Well, I don't blame him for being interested. I practically perked up when I heard mention of this mysterious stalker. A whole bunch of episodes from different crime dramas popped up in my head.
"That's quite all right," he said. "In fact, you were wise to mention this. As a former police officer, this concerns me. I would suggest you contact the authorities at once if you ever catch sight of this vehicle again. I have a friend on the force who, although possibly works in a department unrelated to stalking, might be able to help. His name is Detective Emem Okonjo."
"Will do," said Mrs. Woodschild.
"I'll provide you his number right now. Also, about this case you have presented to me, if possible, may I please speak with your parents, Mrs. Woodschild?"
"Huh?" went Mrs. Woodschild as Dad pulled out a pen and paper notepad, and started writing. "Is it relevant?"
"I believe so," Dad said. "Not to brag, as I have perfect, photographic memory, I can recall any detail, however insignificant, from the far past. From what I have gathered from this interview alone, I do have some ideas about your doppelganger. However, there is something I need to clarify with your parents first before I can present it as the possible truth. And there are some phone calls that I need to make after this."
"Well, if it helps you find out the truth, then by all means," said Mrs. Woodschild.
After that, Dad told them his rates, some kind of plan to pay back a little at a time with interest, and then went on to schedule the interview with Mrs. Woodschild's parents. That hasn't been determined yet since she would have to talk it out with them, so Dad gave her his card with his cell phone number and told the Woodschilds that they could call him whenever they can for the interview.
When it was time for them to leave, Mrs. Woodschild turned to Dad and asked: "It's going to be okay, right? I read about how people who encounter their doppelgangers end up dying or with some horrible fate."
Her voice was shaking and she clearly looked more frightened than when she and her husband gave their story to Dad.
"Mrs. Woodschild, as a professional paranormal investigator, let me assure you that such theories have yet to be proven," said Dad.
When they were gone, I asked Dad what he plans to do.
"I plan to get to the bottom of this, of course," he said, a serious expression on his face. "It's clear that Mrs. Woodschild is very frightened. The strength of her belief in the paranormal only makes it worse."
"You think she actually believes in the paranormal like you do?"
"At the very least, unlike me, she takes urban legends very seriously. I do believe in the paranormal, but I also believe that the paranormal is just as limited by natural laws as things in the living world. If the urban legends about doppelgangers being an omen of death are true, then it's most likely because of the kind of stress that Mrs. Woodschild is suffering from right now. I will have to be very swift in this investigation. If not for Mrs. Woodschild sake, then for the child she carries."
That's my dad for you. An ally to all children.
"By the way," I said, "why do you have to interview Mrs. Woodschild's parents? Does it really relate to what's going on with her?"
"I can't answer that yet," was all Dad said before he pulled out his cell phone and began making a call. "Hey, Emem! I hope I didn't catch you at a bad time. I met someone who I referred to you. Thought I'd call to let you know. Anyhow, got time for a chat about old times?"
I watched him retreat back into his office, and through the door, I could hear him talking loudly and laughing about all the goof ups they did during some kind of certain case. From what I can tell, it happened a long time ago. Dad mentioned my throwing up on a teacher's shoes, which happened only once. I really wished he didn't bring that up.
However, I did find it strange that he'd be chatting with a friend about the good old days instead of digging around for equipment to take on this latest case while singing some kind of Chinese song like he always did.
Around two days later, Dad and I headed on over to the Woodschilds' home. The neighborhood was as normal as normal could be. It was kinda like our own neighborhood. All the houses were standard size, but nice design. Lawns were all neatly trimmed. And there was a decent amount of activity from the people living on this street. No one really paid us much mind. Dad's blazers often look like the classic sort a college professor would wear, and I was wearing a sports jacket over my shirt and tie. The only equipment we needed today were in my pockets. We looked like we could be here any number of reasons other than anything related to ghost hunting or paranormal investigating.
Mr. and Mrs. Rickshire were there with the Woodschilds. They and Dad exchanged handshakes. I shook hands with them too, and then we got straight down to business.
"First off, allow me to start by telling you all about a case that I and a friend was assigned during my days as a police officer," Dad said. "Before you say anything, please just listen. I believe that when I'm finished, it will be clear to you all what I'm getting at.
"A few years ago, there was a murder case that also bordered on attempted murder. The victim was a delivery boy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The intended victim was a young woman, fresh out of high school and working with a company that was said to be doing right by the environment. This young woman, like you, Mrs. Woodschild, is feverishly dedicated to justice and what is right. So imagine her shock when she found out this company was actually a major pollutant. As she is someone who stuck to her beliefs, she had obtained evidence and was in the middle of filing a suit against the company. I'm sure one of you must be familiar with the case?"
"Actually, yeah," said Mr. Woodschild. "A friend of mine from the organization I was a part of talked about it a few years back. It was supposed to be before my time."
"This woman's name is Theresa Rivers, a straight-haired brunette with a narrow face, green eyes with an interest in the paranormal and urban legends. It wouldn't be stretching the truth to say that she really believed in them."
"Well she sounds a lot like Terra!" said Mr. Rickshire.
"When I was in college, my sociologist teacher once presented a lecture on Nature versus Nurture," Dad continued. "One of the examples used was a study on twins who were separated at birth but end up developing strikingly similar habits, interests, and personalities."
"Your point?" Mrs. Woodschild said, getting a bit impatient. Though, the moment Dad mentioned the study, I suddenly got it.
"To clarify things, I wish to know the place of your daughter's adoption, Mr. and Mrs. Rickshire."
"How'd you know she was adopted?" Mrs. Rickshire demanded. She and her husband were very surprised.
"I was suspicious the moment I first met her at my office," Dad said. "Meeting with you only made my suspicions a more concrete possibility. You and your husband both possess genetic traits that your daughter clearly lacks but should have inherited, if she was, in fact, born to you."
"What brought on this suspicion?" Mr. Woodschild asked.
"The woman I mentioned in my tale. I'm glad you were patient enough not to question its relevance, by the way. You all have my thanks. That woman I met all those years ago, who I and my colleagues worked to protect and aid bears an uncanny resemblance to you, Terra Woodschild. So, I must ask again, where did you adopt your daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Rickshire?"
The Rickshires hesitated for a moment, but then answered.
It was a place called Saint Joan's.
Dad closed his eyes to process the answer. He opened his eyes again, and a sorrowful expression was made on his face. I haven't seen a look like that in a long time. Not since the end of the case he took prior to his retirement from the force.
"Then that makes it all the more probable. Theresa Rivers told me herself that she was adopted from Saint Joan's. The woman you saw frequenting outside your house was none other than your twin sister, Mrs. Woodschild."
Suddenly, all the color seemed to drain from Mrs. Woodschild's face. It was as if she was seeing that zombie doppelganger again.
"Of course, what I have now is purely circumstantial," Dad carried on. "I cannot confirm with a hundred percent certainty that it is indeed your sister. At present, there are circumstances that prevent me from obtaining more concrete evidence."
"Why do you say that?" Mrs. Woodschild asked. It was a struggle for her to get all the words out. Her voice was hoarse, and it was as if she was out of breath.
"All I can say is that the police have barred me from making any contact with Theresa Rivers."
"Wh-what could be her reason for doing all this?" Mrs. Woodschild managed to stutter. "Why did she look like that?"
"Like I said, this is all purely circumstantial, and I have not even met Ms. Rivers in person, not since that case I talked about," Dad said. "Without solid proof, there is a possibility I could be wrong about this whole thing, even. Regardless of what Mr. Edwards must have told you about me, I have made mistakes before in the past. I owe quite a few comrades who made up for those mistakes I made to maintain my perfect streak."
"Still, just in case you're right, what would be her motive?"
"I think you would know her best. Given her appearance to you, I can only assume that her health had taken a turn for the worse. Upon discovering that you still have family alive when you grew up believing the family you had been born into were no more, what would you do in such a situation?"
Mrs. Woodschild thought for a moment, but then hung her head down. Her jaws were visibly tense.
A week later, right out of the blue, Dad went over to the Woodschilds' place again. This time, he went alone, but later told me what happened.
Earlier in the morning, he got a call from Emem Okonjo who had been working with the FBI on a high profile case. It was a case that Theresa Rivers was a key witness to, and whose testimony ultimately led to the corporation heads' downfall. Those old guys from up top were facing losing a vast majority of their fortune and time in prison. Their company was completely ruined and everything under them would be snatched away by the competition. Or, at least that was Dad and Emem's forecast. When they're together, it was usually like meeting genuine psychics who can see into the future.
For the most part, Dad was right. Theresa was extremely ill. Apparently, the way the company handled its waste where she lived took a serious toll on her. She brought the law against them, and they blocked treatment of her illness as best they could, trying to get her to back down. They probably never expected her to take the high road. Unfortunately, for her, doing the right thing pretty much guaranteed that she was going to die. Resigned to her fate, she decided to take a trip down memory lane. That was when she learned about her twin, Mrs. Woodschild. She wanted to see her remaining family with her own eyes.
When Dad finally got to talk to her on the phone, she sounded pretty guilty about the whole thing. She didn't mean to scare her sister like that, but just wanted to see how she was doing.
The SUV that was stalking Mrs. Woodschild was also under the company. Since the threat of death didn't seem to make Theresa back off, they probably thought that holding Mrs. Woodschild hostage would. They probably found out about the sisters' relationship while keeping tabs on her. When push came to shove, they even went to try to kidnap the mother-to-be in her own home. But, because Dad had some connections, the moment, those guys broke in, they had gun muzzles shoved into their faces and were now facing charges for attempted kidnapping. Dad suspected something was up with the SUV, and remembering what Theresa was like, correctly assumed that a conspiracy was taking place. So he called a few buddies still on the force and arranged the trap. Those guys that lost everything because of Theresa's testimony were also going to face charges on conspiracy to kidnap in addition to all the other bad stuff they did.
And now that the trial was over, it was now okay for Mrs. Woodschild and Ms. Rivers to finally reunite.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.
The next day after Dad went over to talk with the Woodschild, me and Dad thought to keep Mrs. Woodschild and her husband company and escort her to meet her sister. My own sister was staying over at home to look after Mom who caught a cold. I was kind of glad she didn't come with us.
When we got to the hospital, Emem Okonjo, the large black man with the Nigerian accent and formal gown and trousers, was there to meet us. He met all of our eyes sorrowfully and explained that just a few minutes ago, Theresa Rivers passed away.
Mrs. Woodschild seemed to have lost strength in her legs because she collapsed to her knees. She cried in her husband's arms. And as for Dad, well, I never saw him like that before. There was a mix of sadness and rage clashing on his face.
Me, on the other hand, just stood there, heart rising to my throat.
"How could this happen?" I wondered aloud. "It shouldn't have been like this."
To my surprise, Dad answered: "This is the way the world works. Even though none of us have a right to go above or beyond the law, reality continues to push us over the border. If it weren't so, hacktivists wouldn't exist."
Emem seemed to go rigid from Dad's words, but he didn't say anything. Instead, he shot Dad a meaningful look before escorting a grieving Mrs. Woodschild into the hospital.
Later on, the news announced that the guys from the company Theresa fought against would be facing additional charges of murder after an earlier news report where an anonymous source talked about their involvement in her death, and hacktivists had started being even more aggressive with the company than they already were.
I asked Dad if he knew anything about it, but he just told me this:
"I firmly believe that going beyond the law is not the right thing to do," he said. "But I don't blame those who work outside it."
- The Paranormal Debunker (#11) The Case of Voices of the House
Another case for the Chinese American detective turned ghost hunter.
- The Paranormal Debunker (#13) The Vengeful Phantom
Once again, the services of the paranormal investigator father-son team is called upon.
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